Unmountain Man

In 1992, Canadian singer Celine Dion released a single titled “Love Can Move Mountains.” The song, which peaked at 36 on the Billboard U.S. Hot 100 chart and at #8 overall on Canada’s equivalent, probably should not have its title taken literally. But no one bothered to tell that to a Indian laborer named Dashrath Manjhi.

Manjhi, pictured above, hailed from a small village in the northeast of India near the city of Gaya (here’s a map). Sometime in the 1950s or 1960s — sources differ on the exact date — his wife, Falguni Devi, fell ill, and required medical care. But, according to DNA India, between Manjhi and Devi’s village and the nearest hospital stood mountainous terrain, with no road running through them. The couple travelled around the mountain — a 45 mile (75 km) trek, and by then, it was too late. Devi died, and Manjhi thereafter committed himself to making sure no one befell a similar fate. So he started tunneling.

For the next two decades, Manjhi worked day and night, carving a road from his village through the mountain; according to the Hindustan Times, he used only a hammer, chisel, and nails. By the time he completed the project in the 1980s (again, sources differ on the end date), Manjhi had built a tunnel 360 feet (110 meters) long, 25 feet (7.5 meters) high, and 30 feet (about 9 meters) wide. Residents of his community could, due to his tireless work, now get through the mountain, which was no small victory. Manjhi’s road cut the required travel distance from his area to the neighboring one dramatically, from the aforementioned 45 mile (75 km) distance to only about half a mile (1 km).

Unfortunately, that was only half the job. Connecting the mountain pass to the main roadway required a public works project, and while the local government originally agreed to fund that project, the project was put on hold in 2007. Manjhi died later that year and received a state funeral in honor of his work, and it is unclear if work on the road has resumed. But another project, perhaps more fitting, is underway. According to the Indian Express, the local government is building a hospital, named after Manjhi, near his village.


Bonus fact: After decades of false starts, Manhattan re-started construction on a subway line beneath Second Avenue on April 12, 2007. The project, running from 125th Street down to 63rd, is expected to take at least until 2020 and will cost over $17 billion, per New York magazine. The total distance of the tunnels? 8.5 miles (or about 13.6 km).

From the ArchivesEight Miles Down: What happens when you dig as deep down as you can? Literally, not metaphorically speaking. In the 1970s, the Soviets tried to answer that question.

RelatedA stone carving set (with “a convenient roll-up pouch!”). Nine pieces, but only 3.5 stars, so it may not be suitable for twenty years of digging through a mountain.